The economic news of the week reminds us that the financial affairs of most individual Americans are in better shape than that of the U.S. government.
*The U.S. Senate this week voted to allow the national debt to rise to nearly $9 trillion. The vote prevented a first-ever default on U.S. treasury notes. *The increase represents about $30,000 in debt for every man, woman and child in the United States. *On the plus side, inflation slowed dramatically in February as food and energy costs moderated.
The news for the beef industry this week was a tad more unsettling. A third domestic case of mad cow disease was found, this time in Alabama. And though the full impact of the discovery is uncertain, it's not likely to help efforts to re-open overseas markets to American beef exports.
USDA's announcement of the results had little impact on the market, with prices rising slightly at the end of the week and, there is yet to be any kind of reaction out of Japan, where a piece of bone in a veal shipment earlier this year effectively undid two years of negotiations to reopen that once lucrative market to U.S. beef.
The animal, which never made it off the Alabama farm, was believed to be older than 10 years of age. Its age would indicate that it was born before the 1997 ruminant-to-ruminant feeding ban. Mad cow is believed to only pass from one animal to another through the feeding of parts of animals with the disease.
To prevent any animal with BSE from entering the human or animal food chain, the USDA began random testing of animals in June of 2004. The program, which has cost an estimated 65 million dollars to date was designed to get what is being called a "snapshot" of the health of the domestic herd. Of the more than 650 thousand tests conducted over the past 21 months, only three animals have tested positive for mad cow. Along with other safeguards, USDA officials are calling the system a good defense against an animal with mad cow making its way into the food supply.
Even so, the intensive random testing program is scheduled to be reduced from the current rate of almost 1000 head per day. The reduction is causing some members of Congress and a few consumer groups to request the current program be continued.
Meanwhile overseas, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is conducting informal negotiations with Japanese trade representatives. As yet, there is no word if the most recent BSE case will have any effect on attempts to reopen Japanese borders to U.S. beef.